Manchester City may be facing the prospect of paying Robinho, the most expensive footballer in the history of the English game, to sit in the stands as the player prepares to head back to pre-season training against his wishes.
The £160,000-a-week Brazilian declared on Wednesday after his final match for Santos, to whom he has been on loan since January, that he was desperate to stay at the club. City – who last night remained a "substantial distance" away from agreeing either a fee or terms for the Internazionale striker Mario Balotelli – are in discussions with the Brazilian Football Association about making Robinho available for the friendly with the US on 10 August. After that, he is expected back.
Having left the field to a standing ovation after the 2-0 win over Vitoria in the Brazilian cup final first leg, Robinho declared: "This display of affection really touches me because this is my home. I hope I can stay, but it depends on Manchester City. I hope this is not my last game here but, for now, what I have been told is that [the negotiations] are on a standstill and that I have to go back to Manchester."
It is conceivable that the player will simply refuse to go back. Despite his impressive World Cup, which City believe has increased the £32.5m signing's value, the only two bids for him have been unrealistic. One was from Russia, where he is highly unlikely to want to move. The players' representatives in Brazil are understood to have been hawking his talents to Barcelona, though the arrival of David Villa there has made a move unlikely. Only the sale of Zlatan Ibrahimovic would improve the prospects slightly.
Santos claim City have asked for €40m (£33m) for the player – a sum they could not conceivably manage to pay – and now seem to be pinning their hopes on another loan deal next January. City may decide to cut their losses and sell but their manager, Roberto Mancini, is currently facing a hard decision on whether to put him in his 25-man squad for the first half of the league season.
If Mancini signs Balotelli – and negotiations for that purchase continued to progress yesterday – City would possess yet another left-sided player. The departure of Craig Bellamy – whom Mark Hughes may try to entice to Fulham – would create space, though Robinho's mindset may well militate against a place in the 25-man squad.
"We are negotiating and we are hopeful, but Manchester City have made it clear to us they are not going to loan him again and that they just want to sell him," said the Santos president, Luis Alvaro de Oliveira Ribeiro. "We can try a new loan in January. I think it would be easier then." Evandro de Souza, Robinho's agent, said, "Unfortunately, this will probably be Robinho's last game at Vila Belmiro."
Asked if he had any problems taking Robinho back, Mancini said: "At the moment, no. But it depends on him."